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JOE ATTARD: A new McCarthyism targets Palestine solidarity—defend free speech!
     Release time: 2024-01-22
  The repression of the Palestine solidarity movement has revealed the complete sham of bourgeois democracy. Communists have stood firm against these attacks. Genuine free speech requires democratic workers’ control over the press and wider economy.
  This outrageous censorship and repression has major implications for the class struggle in the future – the labour movement must respond.
  We are told that, in democratic societies, you can say what you like: the law only intervenes to protect the public with reasonable limits on hate speech, incitement to violence, terror threats and so on. As the British government’s ‘Free Speech Tsar’ Arif Ahmed said in the Telegraph:
  “You can castigate the monarchy or defend it. You can argue that Britain is fundamentally racist – or that it never was. You can speak or write as a Marxist, a post-colonial theorist, a gender-critical feminist, or anything else – if you do it within the law.”
  Free speech – for whom?
  While the state shifts the legal goalposts, the ‘free press’ provides a moral cover by whipping up a mood of hysteria. Ever since the 7 October attack, the capitalist press in the west has launched a propaganda offensive portraying Israel as the sole injured party, ignoring the preceding 75 years of brutal occupation faced by the Palestinians, and painting the murderous IDF campaign against Gaza as ‘self defence.’
  At the same time, the papers and news stations spit endless venom that peaceful Pro-Palestinian protests, hundreds of thousands strong, are in fact pro-Hamas, antisemitic, terror-supporting hate marches, beyond the bounds of acceptable free speech. Of course, this is all accompanied with appalling racism and fear-mongering towards Muslims and migrants, including suggestions that they should have their visas revoked, or face mass deportation to curb the dangers of ‘extremism’.
  The media presents a totally lopsided view of the conflict, with Israeli spokespersons regularly invited onto western television to present their point of view, while Pro-Palestinian voices or Palestinians themselves are seldom given any fair hearing. Meanwhile, the entire western political establishment also forms a united front behind Israel, so any politicians given a platform can be relied upon to toe the line.
  Online, the big social media platforms owned by the likes of Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg have been accused of “shadowbanning” pro-Palestinian users, limiting their reach. Musk has explicitly warned that anyone posting the slogan “from the river to the sea” or calling for the “decolonisation” of Israel-Palestine will be banned from Twitter/X.
  This all begs the question – free speech for whom? All people do not have equal means to spread their opinions. Just six companies (National Amusements, NewsCorp, TimeWarner, ComCast, Sony Paramount, and Disney) own essentially all significant private media outlets. These megacorporations are in turn owned by billionaire oligarchs like Rupert Murdoch, a staunch defender of capitalist interests, who also happens to have important business dealings with Israel.
  These tycoons are the paid propagandists of capitalism and imperialism, and bring their considerable clout to bear in shaping a narrative favourable to Israel. State mouthpieces like the BBC follow much the same line,demanding that any pro-Palestinian guest ritualistically ‘condemn Hamas’ before letting them speak. Meanwhile, Israel’s crimes face only the mildest scrutiny, if any.
  Moreover, we find the same voices in the ‘free press’ who previously accused the ‘illiberal left’ of shutting down dissenting points of view, now enthusiastically seeking to ‘cancel’ the pro-Palestine movement.
  The about-face has been neck breaking. For example, the Tory-supporting Telegraph published an article on 4 September 2023 entitled: ‘It’s time the West admitted free speech is dead’, complaining about legal and professional consequences for right wingers speaking their minds. Just weeks later, it released a flurry of articles calling pro-Palestinian demonstrations hate marches that ought to be banned.
  The same newspaper also accused student comrades of the IMT of inciting violence by speaking about intifada (which simply means a mass uprising); and endorsed the intimidation of the University of Oxford branch of the academic union, UCU, into cancelling its meeting where a solidarity motion with Palestine was due to be discussed.
  This is especially ironic, given the Telegraph has for years been on the frontlines of right-wing culture war scaremongering about attacks on ‘freedom of speech’ in universities. We see how these bourgeois hypocrites preach the creed of free expression precisely until it is used to oppose capitalist interests.
  No free speech under capitalism
  The present situation has echoes of the postwar Red Scare, in which FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover and Senator Joseph McCarthy trampled all over democratic and constitutional rights in their rabid persecution of (real and imagined) communist sympathisers in the USA. This was justified as a response to the ‘clear and present danger’ of communist revolution.
  Today, there is a ‘clear and present danger’ of opposition to Israel’s crimes becoming a focal point for the class struggle. The ruling class fears an outpouring of anger that it might not be able to control. As a result, in addition to direct state repression, it foments a witch-hunt atmosphere to curb dissenting opinions.
  Public figures have been censured, suspended or sacked for criticising Israel, including Palestinian-American congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and British Labour MP Andy MacDonald. Another Labour MP, Apsana Begum, has endured a hail of racist abuse for expressing solidarity with Gaza.
  The small handful of pro-Palestinian journalists have had their articles censored, including (ironically) a Guardian column comparing the suppression of Palestine solidarity to McCarthyism!
  Cultural figures are also under pressure. Football pundit Gary Lineker has faced a deluge of press bile and demands to be dropped by the BBC for approvingly retweeting an interview with an Israeli academic accusing Israel of genocide.
  Meanwhile, actors Susan Sarandon and Melissa Barrera have been sacked from film roles or dropped by talent agencies for exercising the ‘democratic right’ to criticise Israel and Zionism, recalling the infamous McCarthyite blacklist of alleged communist sympathisers in Hollywood.
  These celebrity cases are only the tip of the iceberg, countless ordinary people have faced repercussions for sharing pro-Palestine views, particularly on social media. US-based advocacy organisation Palestine Legal reports over 260 cases of people’s livelihoods or careers being targeted, including the (Jewish) editor-in-chief of an academic journal was fired for sharing a satirical article condemning IDF atrocities. Meanwhile, students in Harvard remain at the centre of a right-wing media storm for accusing Israel of provoking the 7 October attack.
  Editor: Zhong Yao  Deng Panyi
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